Best Budget Stereo Amplifier in 2020: Audiophile PicksBy Hassam Nasir July 18, 2020 5 minutes read
Back in the day, if you wanted a hi-fi audio setup, you needed a powerful pair of speakers/headphones, a stereo receiver, a pre-amp which lets you choose inputs/change volume, and a power amplifier which drives the audio device.
If you have a good pair of speakers or headphones already, all you need is a stereo amplifier these days (for most people at least). Modern home stereo amplifiers include all the things I mentioned above, and much more. Still, in the world of high-quality audio gear, things can get quite expensive, and I mean very expensive.
To save you the effort, we’ve rounded up the best stereo amplifiers that are worth your money. Keep in mind that, as audiophiles are enthusiasts who don’t mind dropping a lot of money for high-end equipment, this list isn’t aimed at the average consumer. While we have included the best budget stereo amplifiers, this list and the prices have been arranged with audiophiles kept in focus.
1. Peachtree Audio nova300
- Powerful and dynamic sound
- Lots of connectivity options
- Elegant design
- None worth mentioning
Weight: 17lbs | Power: 300W RMS at 8Ω | Integrated DAC: YesCheck Price
When you go to a fine dining restaurant, it’s not just about the food. It’s about the ambience, the decor, the presentation, and the overall mood you leave with. Forgive me for being a bit pretentious, but that is exactly what it feels like using the Peachtree Audio nova300. With a sophisticated design, cheerful yet crystal clear performance, and a powerful DAC included, I can easily say that is one of the best-integrated amplifiers that is worth your money and can deliver the best sound altogether.
While a lot of audio gear has a symmetric and industrial design, usually in a black/white colour scheme, the nova300 stands out for sure. The glossy finish here is described as “Ebony Mocha” and it looks perfect.
It’s just about aesthetics with the nova300. It also sounds incredible. The audiophile term would be dynamic, and while I agree, it’s definitely more cheerful than restrained. It delivers the audio as it was recorded, yet fine-tunes it in just the right place. Pair it with a great pair of speakers, and you’ll be in a different world entirely.
It also has very tight bass control. If your speakers are a bit soft or loose in that area, this will give that low-end a bit more control and depth. There are a lot of ports at the back, including RCA inputs, analogue inputs, USB inputs, Coaxial inputs, and even TOSLINK inputs. While it is an enthusiast product, it is surprisingly easy to set up. The DAC even has support for iOS devices if you’d wish to connect those.
The only con I can think of that entry-level buyers will find this quite expensive. But in my mind, it goes toe to toe with amplifiers double the cost. It’s one of those pieces of gear worth saving for.
2. Cambridge Audio CXA81
- Industrial design
- Impressive presentation
- Superb neutral sound quality
- Definitely not for entry-level buyers
Weight: 19.1lbs | Power: 80W RMS at 8Ω | Integrated DAC: YesCheck Price
This phenomenal amplifier isn’t on the second spot of our list because it’s notably worse than the top pick. It actually comes down your price range and personal preference. If you can’t afford the nova300, this might be the next best thing. While it’s not exactly the cheapest on this list, it is notably less expensive than our top pick.
Cambridge Audio is a British high-end audio equipment maker. They are known for their consistency and premium audio quality. Both of these things are prevalent in the CXA81 integrated amplifier. It uses a classic industrial design. The lunar grey colour on top of the metal finish looks sophisticated and minimal. The tapered front panel makes it look like it floats on your shelf.
The construction is also rock solid. All the buttons and the main volume control feels spectacular, more importantly, they feel like they’ll last for decades without a problem. If you’re investing good money into a premium amp, you expect it to last a while. You also get a full range of analogue and digital inputs, so connectivity isn’t an issue.
The sound quality can be described as lively or elated. It outputs the type of sound that will make you stop and listen when passing by. However, while it is a lot of fun to listen, it’s not as dynamic as one would think. It’s not quite there in terms of reference quality, but its a good balance between the two. You’d have to hear it to believe it.
Overall, there aren’t many bad things I can say about this amplifier. I guess the remote is a bit ordinary if you can count that as a con? If you need the extra power go for one above it if not, this is definitely worth a buy.
3. PS Audio Sprout100
- Great option for smaller rooms
- Tight and balanced sound
- Bluetooth support
- Higher-end speakers might want more power
Weight: 2.9lbs | Power: 50W RMS at 8Ω | Integrated DAC: YesCheck Price
If you’re familiar with PS Audio, you are probably aware of the fact that they make high-end premium audio equipment. This is actually one of the more affordable amplifiers they make. Sure, it’s not cheap but it is a very powerful and clean amplifier for the size.
While others on this list might sound better, and others might be cheaper, there is one thing they all have in common. Most of them are big and quite heavy. The Sprout100 is small and compact, which means you can easily fit this on your desk. This isn’t for the people who have huge powerful speakers, it’s more for people who have bookshelf speakers and want to use this on your computer desk.
For that purpose, this is the absolute best quality you can get overall. The headphone amp is also excellent and on par with amplifiers that were specifically built for headphones. This means that for the price, you can power your headphones and speakers at the same time. All of that with powerful sound quality.
Speaking of which, it’s amazing how great this little powerhouse sounds. It reproduces sound almost perfectly and does so with great dynamics. As soon as you start listening to it, you’ll know what you paid for. However, it might struggle with larger or more powerful speakers. Apart from that, this is one of the best budget amplifiers.
4. Denon PMA-600NE
Best Bang For Buck
- Solid construction and feel
- Crystal clear audio
- Bluetooth and digital audio support
- Clunky design
- Misleading power rating
Weight: 15lbs | Power: 45W RMS at 8Ω | Integrated DAC: YesCheck Price
The Denon PMA-600NE is a good entry point for people new to the audiophile world. It features five analogue inputs, two optical inputs, and one coaxial input. It even has a phono input for you vinyl fans out there. Apart from that, it features a 24-bit/192kHz digital-to-analogue converter.
The construction is solid, and it feels pretty premium and well put together, no complaints there. I do have a lot of complaints about the design, however. This does look like a very vintage piece of equipment, but not exactly in a bad way. They could have gone the route they went in a better if they had cleaned up the buttons and their placement. The front panel has way too much going on.
Let’s get back to the good stuff. This thing is powerful, and it can drive even large speakers at full power. It is perfect for small to medium-sized rooms. The sound is powerful and punchy, and the bass can really kick in with the help of this amplifier. It doesn’t distort at high volumes either, even if you are using mighty powerful speakers. This is a concern some might have with an entry-level/midrange amp.
The power rating is a bit misleading, however. With both channels at full bandwidth, it has a peak RMS of 70W at 8Ω. In reality, however, the actual rating would be 45W RMS at 8Ω. Rest assured, this is a great amplifier.
5. Onkyo TX 8220
Best Budget Stereo Amplifier
- Surprisingly good sound quality
- Bluetooth support
- Retro design
- Big and heavy
- Lacks a bit in power
Weight: 15lbs | Power: 45W RMS at 8Ω | Integrated DAC: YesCheck Price
The Onkyo TX 8220 is a very rare sight under this price point. It’s almost possible to find an amp that ticks all of the boxes at such a tight budget. Of course, sound quality is completely subjective, but you should look for things such as distortion at high volumes as a red flag. Well, I’m happy (and surprised) to report that this Onkyo amplifier is a marvel of engineering and more than worth the price.
It has a dual-channel receiver built-in and a tonne of playback options. You have a good assortment of inputs and power outputs, including Bluetooth. The Bluetooth support is more convenient than mind-blowing, but it’s still a good convenient feature to have. The build quality is great and the screen at the front definitive gives it a retro design.
Overall, the sound quality is crystal clear and is definitely enjoyable to listen to. Although I would say this is on par with other audiophile amplifiers, it does not exactly have reference-quality sound. However, most people who enjoy cheerful, melodic, and fast-paced songs will love this amp. It’s a bit heavy, and not the most powerful if you want support for larger speakers. However, it’s the best you’ll find if you are on a tight budget.